Friday 28 August 2020

Paralympic Tribute: 1

The Tokyo Paralympic Games would have started on Tuesday. This year is the 60th anniversary of the modern Paralympic Games. The first were held in September 1960 in Rome a week after the closing of the Rome Olympics. They were originally called the Stoke Mandeville Games after the town in England where the games originated in 1948 (hence the London 2012 Paralympic mascot was called Mandeville). In 1959 the International Olympic Committee awarded the Stoke Mandeville games their Fearnley Cup, given in recognition of their “Outstanding Contribution to Olympic Ideals”. Rome 1960 was the first time the Stoke Mandeville Games were held in an Olympic city. At the games in 1964 in Tokyo the term Paralympic was first used, making it doubly significant for the 60th anniversary of the Paralympics to be held in Tokyo this year. Maybe the significance will be marked next year.

While we celebrate these anniversaries we also mark two sadder events that have occurred within the lgbt Paralympic movement in the past year. Belgian Paralympian Marieke Vervoort passed way in October and US Paralympian Angela Madsen passed away in June.

There are many tributes to Marieke and Angela online. Many of them dwell on circumstances of their deaths. Their achievements in sport have, more often than not, only been mentioned briefly, yet without their athletic achievements they would not have received any attention in the media at all.

I want to redress the balance. Whilst I recognise the physical, mental and cultural hardships experienced to overcome their disabilities I want to celebrate what made them an inspiration to other people with and without a disability. I have compiled tables for Marieke Vervoort and Angela Madsen listing their medals and awards. Both athletes also competed in many more events and competitions where they did not finish in the top three. Today I present Marieke Vervoort’s medals and awards.

Note on Paralympic categories:
T52 – (track athletics) Good shoulder and upper body control but little or no trunk or leg function. Lacking in fine motor skills in arms and hands. Damage to spinal cord.

Unless otherwise stated the athlete competed in the female or mixed gender category in an event.
Marieke Vervoort’s badge as Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown is placed beside her portrait on her coffin.

International Triathlon Union (ITU) Triathlon World Championships
September 2006, Lausanne, Switzerland
Gold & world champion, AWAD (Athlete With A Disability) Women Handcycle
ITU Triathlon World Championships
August 2007, Hamburg, Germany
Gold & world champion, paratriathlon, TRI-1
Paralympic Games
September 2012, London, UK
Gold, 100m T52
Silver, 200m T52
Gala du Sport 2012
(annual event celebrating the best of Belgian sport)
16 December 2012
Paralympian of the Year
World records (still stand)
July 2013, Kortrijk, Belgium
400m T52
May 2013, Oordegem, Belgium
800m T52
European record (still stands)
July 2013, Oordegem, Belgium
200m T52
Order of the Crown
(Belgian order of chivalry awarded by the King)
26 Nov 2013
Appointed Grand Officer of the Order (equivalent to Dame)
IPC Athletics Grand Prix (Swiss Open National Championships)
May 2014, Nottwil, Switzerland
Gold, 100m T52
Gold, 200m T52
Gold, 400m T52
Gold and European record, 800m T52
Gold and world record, 1500m T52
Gold and world record, 5000m T52
Trophy Victor Boin
(Named after Victor Boin, Belgian Olympian, given as a lifetime achievement award to Belgian ParaAthletes)
22 Jan 2015
Trophy Victor Boin laureate for 2014
IPC Athletics World Championships
October 2015, Doha, Qatar
Gold, 100m T52
Gold, 200m T52
Gold, 400m T52
Gala du Sport 2015
20 Dec 2015
Paralympian of the Year
Lifetime Achievement Award
IPC Athletics Grand Prix
May 2016,
Nottwil, Switzerland
Gold, 100m T52
Gold, 200m T52
Gold, 400m T52
Gold, 1500m T52
Ereteken van de Vlaamse Gemeesschap
(Decoration of the Flemish Community, an order of merit awarded annually by the regional government to distinguished Flemish nationals)
11 July 2016
Paralympic Games
September 2016, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Silver, 400m T52
Bronze, 100m T52

On 6th September, on what would have been the last day of the Paralympics, I’ll present the table of the medals and awards of Angela Madsen.

Sunday 23 August 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 19) Military Colours

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 50) Jared Polis (b.1975), Governor of Colorado, only lives in the governor’s residence during legislative sessions, unlike 51) William Hart McNichols (b.1949) who spent much of his childhood there before becoming a priest and icon painter, an art-form that caused a conflict within the Orthodox Church which saw 52) St. Methodios I of Constantinople (d.847) imprisoned before becoming Patriarch, one of many intersex officers of state in the Byzantine Empire like 53) Narses (c.478-c.568).

53) Narses was probably Armenian by birth. The dates of his birth and death are also uncertain. Although generally referred to as a eunuch in English translations of the Byzantine and Greek texts Narses could have been one of several gender types. 52) St. Methodios was a “spadone”, a person born with undeveloped or malformed sexual organs. We would called him intersex today. Then there were the “ektomiai” or “castrati” who were rendered incapable of sex by accidental or deliberate castration. Narses is thought to have been an ektomiai.

Narses career began very much as it did for other eunuchs at the imperial court. He became a cubicularius, a chamberlain of the palace. Despite being an impressive-sounding position there could have been hundreds, even thousands, of cubicularia at any one time. Narses rose to become a spatharios, a member of the Emperor Justinian’s personal guard.

Justinian was unpopular. His high taxes were the cause of many riots, which were often fuelled by which chariot team people supported.

You probably know that the Romans loved chariot races. So did their eastern survivors the Byzantines and Greeks. By Justinian’s time in the 6th century there were two chariot teams, the Blues and Greens. Supporters would dress in their team colours and chant just like supporters do today. But these teams were also political. There were no organised political parties and the emperor would appeal to team loyalty to support his laws.

By 536 circumstances came to a head. At the races the crowds weren’t chanting and hurling insults at their opponents. They were chanting united against the emperor – “Nika! Nika!”, which means “Victory! Victory!” Hence what developed became known as the Nika Riots. The spectators were angry at yet more taxes and were unified in their animosity towards Justinian. Blue and Green supporters began rioting though the stadium and out into the palace grounds and the city. For five days nothing could stop them and hundreds of people were killed and much of the city destroyed.

The stadium served as the rioters meeting place. Justinian, a Blue, ordered Narses to go there and bribe the Blue leaders into abandoning their Green allies. It worked and most of the Blues walked out. The Greens were stunned. When Narses left the stadium two of Byzantium’s greatest generals, Belisarius and Mundus, stormed into the stadium at the head of 3,000 soldiers and slaughtered everyone, some 30,000 people. Narses led another division of soldiers stationed at every exit making sure that no-one trying to escape was left alive.

As a reward for his part in ending the riot Narses was given command of a division of 7,000 soldiers. Many years later, when Narses was well into his 70s, Justinian sent him to Italy to help General Belisarius control rebel groups. Narses’ military ability was lauded by his contemporaries and by historians.

Narses’ last years were spent mainly in Italy where he rebuilt many Roman structures. He probably died in Naples at what many historians believe to have been in his 90s.

Both Narses and St. Methodios were open about their eunuch and intersex status. In more recent centuries people have had to keep their status secret. In some cases the secret is not revealed until much later. Last October I mentioned one individual who was very recently revealed to have been intersex, 54) Casimir Pulaski (1945-1779).

A nobleman and military commander of the independence struggles in his native Poland Pulaski fled Europe to fight against the British in the American War of Independence. George Washington recognised his abilities, especially after the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, and gave Pulaski his own command within the Continental Army and he donned the uniform of blue and buff, influenced by the political colours of the British pro-independence Whig party.

In these times of revisionist history it is unsettling that a man who fought against slavery in his native Poland chose to fight for pro-slavery America.

Casimir was killed in action at the young age of 34. His remains were eventually placed in a specially built monument in Savannah, Georgia. By 1996 this monument was crumbling and in need of repair. A local coroner led a campaign to discover if the remains inside the monument really were those of Pulaski – and that’s when a mystery developed.

Forensic anthropologists studied the bones and at first they identified them as belonging to a woman. The coroner recalled seeing references to a condition called congenital hydrenal hypasia, commonly referred to at that time as hermaphroditism. Today we place the condition in the intersex spectrum. Was Casimir Pulaski a woman or intersex?

Ten years of research failed to solve the mystery. Then a new team decided to test the DNA of the bones with that of Pulaski’s great-niece who was buried in Poland. The result was a match. This and other evidence have led anthropologists to suggest that Pulaski was indeed intersex.

Back to that article I wrote last October. That article was about his coat of arms and where they originated. I explained that he was a descendant of the medieval noble family of Korwin who used the crow (“corvus” in Latin) as a pun on their name. Puns were common in medieval times when most people couldn’t read and needed a visual clue (puns are still popular in heraldry today). Descendants who used the Korwin name or its variants used the crow, sometimes on a different colour background, known as a field, like the Pulaskis who used blue instead of the original red.

My article mentioned another Korwin descendant who inherited the early version of the family coat of arms, 55) Sofya Kovalevksaya (1850-1891).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: Things add up in Sweden.

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Star-Gayzing: Thrilled

In June I was contacted by Ruth Anderson, a staff writer at Thrillist, the culture and lifestyle website, about my Star-Gayzing articles. Ruth was writing an article for Thrillist about the relationship between the lgbt community and the cosmos. She was “absolutely fascinated” by my posts and asked if I could help with providing some insight into my relationship to astronomy. I was asked how I became interested in astronomy, what lgbt figures have influenced science, and what facts I would like to share.

What resulted was this article.

Whenever I’m asked to provide information I make sure I give more than may be required. It all depends on what the article’s writer needs and what their angle on the subject happens to be. Providing too much is better than providing too little is what I always say. I was delighted with the article and thank Ruth for the opportunity to tell people about myself.

What follows is the information I provided to Ruth, with a few additions. You can find many of the people mentioned below on this blog – put the name in the search box.

I was fortunate to be raised in a rural village where there was virtually no light pollution and my family often went outside in the winter evenings to look at the stars. I remember us all going out to look at Halley’s Comet when I came around last time. Unfortunately, I now live in Nottingham city centre and see very little, and didn’t get to see Comet NEOWISE this summer.

Stargazing with my family got me interested in the planets and from there I became interested in the asteroids. I remember copying out a list of asteroids from an encyclopedia when I was about 8. I was also fascinated by the stories and legends behind the planets and constellations and that got me interested in Greek and Roman mythology.

Most modern lgbt scientists work with many non-lgbt colleagues and their work is often a team effort. In the past scientists tended to work alone and, as with every other scientist that came up with a new theory, were often met with opposition or even ridicule from fellow scientists.

Perhaps the earliest example is Parmenides of Elea from the 5th century BC. He was the first to suggest that space was infinite and not the inside of a crystal sphere with stars attached to it. He also suggested that the Earth was spherical (Pythagoras is often claimed to be the first to suggest this but there’s no real evidence he did). Nobody took Parmenides seriously. Both of his theories were championed after his death by his former boy-lover Zeno of Elea.

Many centuries later Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), ex-priest, mathematician and spy (under the code-name Henri Fagot), expanded Parmenides theory by saying that in an infinite universe there’s an infinite number of planets inhabited by humans. Bruno was executed for heresy. Anti-Christian propaganda claims this is proof of the Church’s opposition to science and its homophobia, but Bruno wasn’t executed because of his science or sexuality. The Church accepted the existence of infinite space and planets. Bruno was executed because he said that these planets meant there was an infinite number of Christs, and the Church taught that there was only one. Effectively, the Church said that inhabitants of other planets are not human, which is just what scientists began to say 300 years after them.

The famous Copernicus didn’t believe in an infinite universe. He still believed that the stars were attached to spheres like everyone else. His theory of a Sun-centred solar system wasn’t new, he just used more maths to perfect the model, and he didn’t think scientists would be interested in reading about something they already knew. However, his protégé, Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514-1574), a professor who made my life hell by developing trigonometry, disagreed. After being sentenced to exile from Leipzig for having sex with a male student Rheticus visited Copernicus. He persuaded Copernicus to publish his work, otherwise nobody would ever have heard of Copernicus.

There’s an interesting side-story to Copernicus. Someone once discussed Copernicus with the gay philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). The person mocked the people of Copernicus’s time for believing that the Sun went around the Earth, to which Wittgenstein replied “Yes, but what would it have looked like if the Sun DID go round the Earth?” His point being that it would look exactly the same. What people, and scientists, believed before the discovery of the movements of the planets around the Sun didn’t make them stupid.

Below are some discoveries made by lgbt scientists in astronomy. They may not be well-known but they are significant in the field of astronomy.

Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity and the nature of rainbows.

Transgender astrophysicist Dr. Rebecca Oppenheimer discovered the first brown dwarf star.

Transgender astrophysicist Dr. Jessica Mink discovered the rings around the planet Uranus.

Dr. Martin Lo discovered the gravitational highways through the solar system that make the voyages of interplanetary probes and satellites quicker and shorter.

Sir Arthur Eddington proved Einstein’s theory that gravity bends light during a total eclipse in 1919.

Dr. Nergis Mavalvala proved Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves.

Dr. Franck Marchis and Dr. Mike Wong discovered the first double asteroid. Both have since discovered many other asteroids and even the first moons around asteroids.

Dr. James Pollack’s study of dust storms on Mars led to research into climate change on Earth. His team came up with the term “nuclear winter”.

Dr. Lisa Harvey Smith was the first lead scientist on the construction of the Square Kilometre Array telescope, which will be the largest Earth-bound international telescope array when completed.

Dr. Andrew Chael was one of the scientists who worked on the first photo of a black hole that was released last year.

Dr. Jeremy Bailin discovered that the warp of our Milky Way galaxy was caused by the gravitational pull of the Sagittarius Galaxy as it passed us billions of years ago.

Dr. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, and the first of only two lgbt astronauts. She went on two shuttle missions and led the investigations into the two shuttle disasters.

In 132 the Roman Emperor Hadrian created a constellation in memory of his dead lover Antinous. After 1786 a constellation was created in memory of the gay German emperor Frederick the Great. Both constellations have since been split up and their stars reassigned to other constellations.

Thousands of asteroids and planetary features throughout the solar system have been named after members of the lgbt community, from craters on Mercury to mountains on Venus, and from asteroids to moons of Jupiter.

Many openly lgbt astronomers are involved in outreach work, popularising astronomy, and working in public planetaria. There is also an increasing number of openly lgbt students who are registering on lgbt science and university “out lists”, and there are many lgbt astronomy professors.

Several meteorites were worshipped as gods, and their priests were often third gender, intersex or eunuch. Perhaps the most famous third gender priests were the Three Wise Men or Three Kings who followed a star from the east in the Christmas story.

Speaking of Christmas, a Swedish theologian and historian called Nils Vilhelm Ljungberg (1818-1872) was the first to take an astronomical approach to calculating the year Christ was born. Using ancient chronologies, records of eclipses, and star and planetary charts he came up with the date of 1st October 7 BC. It’s the date that is still often quoted today.